Drug testing procedures for parolees have recently changed, reducing processing time and cost to the Agency.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Parole Division implemented new procedures to utilize an instant read cup to test offenders under parole supervision. This cup eliminates the need to machine-test specimens at in-house labs or through private testing locations. It also eliminates the need to maintain lab technicians on staff. In addition, the use of the cup minimizes staff contact with hazardous samples, allows testing for multiple illicit substances, and provides immediate, accurate results.
As of December 31, 2007, 78,044 parolees were under active parole supervision, with approximately 80% requiring drug testing as a condition of their parole. In addition, all parolees are subject to random and targeted testing. Random testing occurs one (1) time per quarter with offenders selected from a list generated every 90 days by the TDCJ Information Technology Division. This list represents 5% of all offenders under parole supervision. Targeted testing is performed on all new parolees during their initial parole office visit and on the offenders imposed with special conditions. It is also performed on any offender that a parole officer determines is in need of testing.
With former testing procedures including a variety of drug-specific tests, officers obtained one (1) specimen and typically requested two (2) to three (3) individual tests based on that offender’s “drug of choice.” These tests cost approximately $1.00 each to administer. The new instant read cup however provides multi-drug testing through one (1) specimen at a cost of approximately 60¢ per drug tested. The Parole Division is currently utilizing a 5-panel test cup, targeting the most commonly used illicit drugs, along with a saliva swab for screening alcohol use. Through the current vendor, the Division has the flexibility to change the targeted drugs or to increase the testing panel to detect up to 12 substances, to include alcohol.
The new testing protocol requires the offender, under observation of a parole officer, to provide a specimen into the test cup. The test cup is then sealed, placed on its side to activate the testing reagent, and monitored by both the parolee and the officer. If the drug screen is positive and the offender admits to drug use, the offender signs the admission of use form and is subject to sanctions, such as counseling, treatment or in some cases, revocation. If the drug screen is positive and the offender denies the use, and the Division is seeking revocation, the test results are provided to an outside contracted lab for Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) confirmation. GC/MS is a gas type test that determines the presence of a particular drug and its concentration. GC/MS is considered the method of choice for the unequivocal identification of a drug. The labs contracted by the Agency for this confirmation testing are certified through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
In addition to reduced processing time, cost and allowing for immediate action by a parole officer, additional benefits are anticipated from the use of this new testing protocol. These potential benefits include an increase in parolees’ admission of drug use, an increase in referrals and use of substance abuse counseling, as well as, a decrease in the allegations and actual use of illicit drugs. Statistics for the first four (4) months show the instant read testing procedures support these trends. From September to December 2007, the number of positive tests steadily declined, while the average number of parolees admitting use increased from 214 to 564 monthly, statewide.
With the cup resulting in a cost avoidance of 40¢ per test, and allowing for immediate action taken on parolees with positive test results, the new drug testing procedures implemented by the Parole Division are making a positive impact on the Agency and in turn, on public safety.